(When we were preparing for our trip to Taiwan and searching for practical information about traveling with an infant we didn’t find much, so this post will be a detailed review of our experience flying from San Francisco to Taipei for those of you planning a trip with a baby. More personal stories about how it’s going now that we are here will come soon.)
My husband is the official trip researcher in the family. He loves looking for a good deal, but is also big on comfort and quality, so I leave all the travel details to him and I know we will get there in style (it would be a different story altogether if I left the packing up to him, but at least we know our roles).
For this trip, he found some cheaper, direct flights from SFO to Taipei, but they were all on American carriers and judging from our experience on domestic flights and some online reviews, he decided not to sacrifice the service and amenities we would get for a slightly higher price on an international airline with one stop. Besides, with all the extra charges for baggage and meals U.S. airlines are charging these days, the price would probably have ended up the same, and we would have been much less comfortable. However, a direct flight could have saved us some grief on the last leg of our long journey. There are lots of factors to consider when choosing a flight, and it is an arduous journey no matter how you get there, so I’m grateful our family Decider chose for us and we made the most of it.
He went with ANA, All Nippon Airways, a Japanese airline that would stop in Tokyo before taking us to Taipei. We could fly out of SFO at either noon or midnight and he decided it would be better to begin our travels mid-morning while our baby was fresh.He was able to reserve a seat at the bulkhead with a bassinet, and also requested vegetarian meals for me and meals for Little Man ahead of time for no extra charge. The exceedingly polite ANA employee at the counter confirmed this as we checked in, as did several flight attendants once we boarded. Upon check-in, we were asked how much our baby weighed. Apparently, the bassinets are only meant to hold up to twenty pounds (Little Man barely made the cut at nineteen). You hold your baby in your lap during takeoff and they attach the bassinet to the bulkhead wall once the seatbelt sign has been turned off.
Our seats were in the middle of the aisles, and in our row to either side of us were families. We had brought along twenty pairs of earplugs in case our neighbors did not appreciate baby noise, but fortunately we ended up the quietest in a row of five little boys under four years old and only four adults managing them. Our neighbors were both Japanese women each taking their two kids home to Japan for a visit sans husbands. As I saw them struggle the entire eleven-hour flight to keep their respective pairs of chaos contained, I vowed to myself never to attempt a trip like this alone, and not to take another long flight with Little Man until he is five or so. Two to four year olds just aren’t made with the capacity to sit still for that long without meltdowns. It turns out nine months was a great age to travel. We didn’t have to pay for a seat (only the taxes on a ticket), he still fit in the bassinet, breastfeeding is still an easy way to give immediate comfort, and he isn’t walking yet so he couldn’t cause much trouble.
We brought a few toys, lots of snacks, some books, and an iPod and iPad loaded up with kid stuff, and the attendants came around with a basket of free little airline-related toys to choose from, but none of that was useful for more than a minute or two. The iPad entertained the older neighbor boys for quite awhile, especially the free Toy Story app where you can paint Woody and Buzz Lightyear by touching the screen. What got the most mileage with our kid was my husband’s watch, standing against the seat (we were very lucky and had an empty seat next to us), playing with the seatbelt and headphones, and watching the baby channel on the airline screen at our seat. Pingu, a claymation penguin popular in Asia, captivated us all. He also did his fair share of flirting with the sweet flight attendants and other passengers. He was the recipient of many compliments about what a happy, well-behaved baby he was. He took a couple naps, enjoyed two amazing, healthy airline meals (each was a box full of fruit, baby food, and a sweet treat. Our meals were also good and free mini-bottles of wine were a blessing) and impressed us all with how well he did. Thank God.
The layover in Tokyo is where things got a little tougher. We had three hours to kill and we were all very tired. We cleaned up in the airport nursery, a special room just for changing babies, with a little seat to put them in to allow you to use the restroom as well. Brilliant. Then we found a big empty seat and he and I passed out while my man played Mahjong on the iPad waiting to hear our boarding call.
On this flight, we were not so lucky to have extra space. We had two seats against the window, and he wanted nothing to do with the bassinet. At this point, only Mama would do, so we spent three hours trying to sleep in various uncomfortable positions, and this is when I wished we had been on a direct flight. But somehow we made it. And even after all that, our Little Man had bleary-eyed smiles for all the strangers exiting the plane. Phew.
I can’t believe we have to do it all again to get home. At least we have almost three weeks, and he is already adjusted incredibly well to the time difference. More stories of our Taiwanese adventures to come.